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Posts Tagged ‘Public Transport’

Why I welcome the Bus Services Bill

Thursday, January 19th, 2017
First Greater Manchester operate a high proportion of services locally

First Greater Manchester operate a high proportion of services locally

If ever a list were to be drawn up of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed, the 1985 Transport Act would be on it. The deregulation of bus services outside of Greater London that it implemented (why was London exempt if it was such a good idea?) led to fragmentation, higher fares and falling passenger numbers. Greater Manchester is a prime example of this.

Locally there are two major players in the bus market, Stagecoach and First. It was claimed that deregulation would drive down fares by allowing competition between operators, however there are very few places in Greater Manchester where the two companies actually compete. Instead the conurbation has been carved up with First operating the majority of services in the North and Stagecoach in the South. Essentially we’ve swapped a public monopoly for two private ones.

This has allowed the two firms to charge whatever fares they believe they can get away with and flood the profitable corridors with buses to keep any sniff of competition of the road – despite many of the vehicles running barely half full for much of the day. For example, if I want to travel from Ashton to Oldham on the bus, what choice do I have? It’s First’s 409 or a fair old walk! Equally, from Hyde to Manchester it’s just Stagecoach’s 201. And if you ever do need to make a journey that uses services operated by more than one operator, from Mossley to Denton for example, you’ll have fork out for a more expensive ‘System One’ ticket.

Even more frustrating is when you consider the public money given to the firms in the form of subsidies. Bus operators receive a fuel subsidy called the ‘Bus Service Operator Grant’ for all services they run, even those on the profitable corridors. The operators then ask for an additional grant to run services that are not profitable but are deemed socially necessary such as those serving the more rural parts of Tameside which would otherwise be cut off. That’s a lot of tax payer’s money being paid to essentially enable large multinational companies to make a profit. There has to be a better way surely?

Now make no mistake, I’m not calling for more on road competition. The bus wars on Oxford Road in South Manchester are the clearest local example that such a thing recreated on Hyde Road, Ashton New Road or Oldham road would be a disaster for air pollution and congestion. However, if we are to have competition, we must have a system that ensures that it is genuine and that gets the biggest bang for the public buck. That’s why I welcome the 2016 Bus Services Bill.

The Bus Services Bill will hand power over the regulation of bus services to the new Greater Manchester Mayor. Just like in London, locally accountable politicians will be able to control the routes, frequency and fares and design a network that is responsive to local need, affordable, and complements, rather than competes with, the heavy rail and Metrolink services. The competition will be taken off the road and in to the process of letting the contracts to run services. This regulated system in the capital has led to a flat £1.50 single fare and a strong upward trend in the number of passenger journeys on London’s buses since 2000. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the country where bus use is in steady decline.

And so the improvement on offer for transport is one of the many reasons I am such a fierce supporter of the Greater Manchester Devolution deal. Devolution is a journey and as the combined authority grows and shows that it can make a success of the powers it is entrusted with in my view we should look to expand our reach. Whilst it may be bus services today, in transport terms the next logical step in my mind is railway stations and local commuter railway services. Then where, who knows? But whichever path we take I am firmly of the view that there are many powers, currently exercised in the corridors of parliament that would be far better exercised in the corridors of Greater Manchester’s Town Halls.

A Better Deal on Trains

Friday, August 19th, 2016

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What costs £95 in Germany, £37 in Italy, £56 in Spain, £234 in France and a whopping £358 in Britain? The answer is the monthly cost of a season ticket for a 30 mile train ride in those countries. By raw numbers and as a proportion of income, Britain is the most expensive place in Europe to take a train, and it’s only going to get worse after the announcement this week that railway fares were due to rise by another 1.9% next year.

It’s not like we get a better deal for the extra money we pay either. In the past month or so, a litany of incompetence at Southern Rail led to 350 trains being cancelled in one day, the resignation of a Minister, workers going out on strike and calls for the entire franchise to be withdrawn from the operator. No matter how you look at it, we’re paying way above the odds for a service that seems to be getting worse with every passing day.

I cannot emphasise enough how important having a fit-for-purpose railway system is for a healthy and growing economy. Affordable and effective public transport networks increase productivity, allow people to look for jobs in a wider area and act as catalysts for further public and private investment. Furthermore, every person who takes a train instead of going on the road in a car supports the environment and the economy by reducing congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. In the North, where we have several cities that are geographically close but hard to get between due to poor transport infrastructure, the case for looking again at public transport becomes even stronger. Every train that is delayed, or cancelled, or overcrowded, or too expensive is not just an inconvenience for passengers, it is a blow to the very heart of the economy we want to build in the North of England.

Is it really such a surprise that many believe that drastic action is now needed? Polls conducted at the start of this year showed that 78% of Labour voters, 60% of Lib Dems, 70% of UKIP and 42% of Conservatives were in favour of renationalising our railways. I challenge you to find a similar consensus on any hot-button issue in politics today. The government will argue that the public sector wouldn’t be able to take on the job, but across Europe publically-run companies such as Deutsche Bahn, Nederlanse Spoorwegan and Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français operate profitable and well-managed railway networks. Even here in Britain, the vast improvement in public transport in London has been down to a multi-billion pound investment programme funded by the government and carried out by publically- owned Transport for London.

These are the examples we should follow, not our failed privatised franchising system. As part of the devolution deals we have signed with the government Transport for the North is due to be given full legal status next year. When it is fully set up, this body will be responsible for budgets, tickets and bus services across the North. Surely then it’s not a giant leap for them to run our railway services as well, working with public and private sector partners as they see fit? These devolved responsibilities must be backed up by devolved funding as well, perhaps through taking forward Tony Lloyd’s suggested policy of allowing the estimated £1.1 billion of fuel duty revenue raised in Greater Manchester to be spent in Greater Manchester by Greater Manchester. Devolution, making decisions locally and reinvesting profits locally, may be the solution we need to create a railway system that will help turn the Northern Powerhouse from words on paper to a reality on the ground.

Putting the Public Back in Public Transport

Friday, June 17th, 2016

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As part of our drive to make Tameside a greener, more connected borough I take a particular interest in how we can make public transport as cheap and effective an option for residents as possible. That might seem like a strange thing to say in a car dominated country like the UK, but I think that the reasons speak for themselves. Public transport is better for the environment, connects people to work, enables young people to access education and training and tackles social isolation.

What’s more, it’s predicted that traffic levels will increase by up to 55% by 2040, a jump that may lead to gridlocked roads and increased difficulty for people accessing jobs and services if we don’t prepare for it now. Investing in and expanding public transport is one of the best ways to meet this future challenge head-on. Which is why it’s a real concern that bus use in the UK outside London has halved since the industry was deregulated in the 1980s, falling from 2 billion to 1 billion a year.

It’s clear that something has to be done. That’s why I welcomed the Bus Services Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech last month, which would allow devolved authorities with an elected mayor, such as Greater Manchester, to commission bus services for their own area. This isn’t exactly a new thing – London has been allowed to do it for decades – but it’s a positive step nonetheless. It also opens the door to more ambitious plans like smart ticketing systems, a true Oyster card for the North.

Unfortunately, like most government legislation these days, the Bus Services Bill has a sting in the tail. Devolved authorities will be specifically banned from setting up bus companies to run their own services. If publicly-owned bus companies were proven to be worse than their private sector counterparts then that would be fair enough, but the evidence from existing public bus companies (which will still be allowed to run) says otherwise. Reading Buses was Operator of the Year in 2015. Nottingham City Transport has the best passenger satisfaction rating of any provider. Lothian Buses, the largest public bus operator in the UK, returned a profit of £5.5 million to the public sector for reinvestment last year alone. Public bus companies can be successful, and they deserve to be allowed to compete on a level playing field. Anything else is putting ideology over what works.

In Tameside we will continue to work with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Transport for Greater Manchester to secure the future of public transport in the borough. Work on the new Tameside Interchange (Ashton-under-Lyne), a modern transport hub that will link up both buses and trams, is scheduled to begin at the end of the year. We’re also continuing to explore the possibilities offered by expansion of the Metrolink, the electrification of the Manchester-Leeds railway, and bringing old railway routes back into use.

For our residents and for the environment, Tameside does clean. Tameside does green. Tameside does public transport.

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